N&N Festival, Beethoven Symphony No. 9 review: ‘Proof there is no rival to live music’

Britten Sinfonia performed Beethoven's ninth symphony on the closing weekend of the Norfolk & Norwic

Britten Sinfonia performed Beethoven's ninth symphony on the closing weekend of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival. Photo: Ben Ealovega - Credit: Archant

It is a balmy May evening and a sold-out St Andrew's Hall is about to hear some of the most famous bars of music ever composed.

The Britten Sinfonia

The Britten Sinfonia - Credit: Archant

This performance of Beethoven's ninth and final symphony, by Britten Sinfonia, has been three years in the making. Expectation is in the Norwich air.

The evening begins with a bitter appetizer - a rendition of the deliberately uncomfortable The Eternal Recurrence written by Gerald Barry.

Composed 20 years ago, time has not healed this piece, but Jennifer France, the soprano soloist, tackles it with gusto and intensity, showcasing her vocal agility and clarity.

It makes Beethoven's ninth even sweeter.

When this was first performed in 1824, the German master had not written a piece for 12 years after critics lambasted his eighth.

With its breadth and range of musical devices, it is the perfect vehicle for Britten Sinfonia to display their considerable talent as a chamber orchestra.

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They come alive during first movement, demonstrating both precision and power as the piece shuddered from minor to major and back again. There is brilliant interplay between strings and wind.

In the spirited second movement, conductor Thomas Adès comes close to pogoing. The energy seems to build rather than wane over the 70-minute performance.

The orchestra expertly glides through these famous bars, loved and used by film makers, advertisers and politicians; from the Nazis to the European Union.

Ode to Joy, the final movement, is what the crowds in a sold out St Andrew's Hall are here for and what a treat they got.

It is a near perfect rendition.

As bass soloist Matthew Rose rallies the singers with the opening line, O Freunde, nicht diese Töne (O friends, not these sounds) it looks for a second like he has stolen the show.

His rich tones reverberate powerfully around the venue as he heralds the start of the choral finale.

But then comes the combined forces of the Britten Sinfonia Voices and the Choir of Royal Holloway, who together made up a chorus of singers.

They sing with huge power.

The main theme of Ode to Joy soars over the animated orchestra creating a wall of sound. When you hear a concert like this, there is no rivalry for live music.

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